July 18 - July 31, 2005

Juan L. Mercado

Numero dos as numero uno

“The vice presidency isn’t worth a pitcher of warm spit”, snorted John Nance Garner after serving as vice-president under the towering Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Vice President Noli de Castro disagrees. He thinks his “spare-tire” role, provided by the Constitution, is the “pot o’ gold at rainbow’s end”.

He has junked what comedian Will Rogers called “the best job in the country”. All a vice president “does every morning is ask: ‘How’s the President?’’ Now, De Castro’s trying to look—and sound—Numero Uno.

Numero Dos’ new posture stems partly from former President Corazon Aquino’s call for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to resign. “The country cannot continue in its present tumultuous state”, Mrs. Aquino said.

Two constitutional paths remain open. One was the protracted impeachment process. The preferred second was voluntary resignation.” It’d provide “a smooth transition to her constitutional successor, the vice president, and a swift return to normalcy.”

Was that the “tipping point” Mrs. Aquino’s stature and calm measured tone welded other voices, calling for resignation: from the Ateneo de Manila staff to Makati Business Club and civic groups.

So have the resignations of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Budget Secretary Emilia Boncodin and eight of the top 10 key cabinet secretaries of the Arroyo economic management team. These were those who oversaw the administration’s increasingly effective economic reforms. The resignations erode further her capacity to govern.

Aquino’s call and cabinet resignation saw Estrada partisans mass. Their communist allies unfurl their stockpiled red banners at Ayala Avenue. This, at last, was the outburst of people’s power they’ve tried to ignite. Once again, that fizzled.

A major cause was Jose Marian Sison’s decision to ally his Maoist revolutionaries with the Erap group, seeking to grab power, Philippine Free Press Antonio Abaya wrote. This turned off the crucial middle class that always sparked people power.

Clarita Carlos, a University of the Philippines political scientist and Inquirer’s Amando Doronila think that, in the hours ahead, Ms Arroyo’s fate rests with the military and the influential Catholic Church.

“The military will not move until the people move,” Carlos told Agence France Presse. “And the people will not move until the church tells them to”. This could be indicated in the Catholic Bishops Conference statement that may be released as this column goes to press. “This would set off a domino effect that could precipitate the collapse of the regime,” writes Doronila.

“The tectonic plates have shifted,” Bukidnon’s Representative Nereus Acosta. “They’ll not return to their original shape. The question is: can we avoid a tsunami?”

As change looms, the Vice President is discovering, he has more “friends” than he realized. There are the usual favor-scavengers. Some just leap-frogged from the Palace.

But improbable “new buddies” have turned up. “We’re open to Noli,” Bayan Muna national vice chair Manuel Loste allowed in Baguio. The Reds never disregarded the Constitution, he said. They even “helped promote (the charter) during the 1986 and 2001 People Power revolutions”.

Is that the new party line? And do they check their facts? The present constitution didn’t exist in 1986. It was drafted after the EdSA Revolt where the communists huddled in safe houses.

An overwhelming 81 percent of voters cast their ballots in the 2 February 1987 ratification vote. And 76 percent voted for to approve. A constitution, it is said, only “formalizes the moral consensus that people have already reached”.

This historical record notwithstanding, Bayan Muna and party-list comrades insisted that the constitution be scrapped; that “a revolutionary government” (a Maoist dictatorship) be installed. That’d require De Castro to quit too—a call Estrada backers led by Senator Aquilino Pimentel repeat.

Have the comrades belatedly discovered the constitutional rule on succession? They’ve they never had popular backing. So, they’ve tried to hijack middle class support. Is this tacit recognition that opposition to constitutional tampering is insurmountable—for now?

But the scent of potential trouble is thick. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo retains support in the provinces. She’s not quitting. No controversial president gives up immunity freely. Look at where Erap is today.

The New People’s Army mutters about Romanian Nicolae Ceauesescu-style of execution. Don’t take that lightly. A survivor of the Plaza Miranda bombing, Senator Jovito Salonga feels Jose Ma. Sison staged that gruesome massacre. A similar high-profile killing now could trigger mayhem.

“Make no mistake about it,” Inquirer columnist Manuel Quezon III writes. “Neither the militant Left, nor the Estrada forces, nor even military adventurers feel bound by (the Constitution)” That’s a scrap of paper, as far as they’re concerned.

Senators Franklin Drilon and Manuel Villar deny they’ now jockeying for the Numero Dos post. “The vice presidency is like the last cookie on the plate,” writer Bill Vaughan once said. “Everybody insists he won’t take it. But somebody always does.”

(E-mail: juan_mercado@pacific.net.ph)

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Copyright 2005 Ilocos Times. All rights reserved.

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